PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Jan. 17, 2010 -- With soaring hills, crumbling buildings and what little open space there is in Port-au-Prince -- now packed with the hungry and homeless -- this is not a helicopter-friendly environment.
But today ABC News was on board one of the dozens of relief flights ferrying food and especially water throughout the city. The landing zone was on a mountainside golf course between towering trees.
ABC News was met on the ground by soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division who had secured the site and kept the Haitians a good distance away.
The delivery was not large -- 18 crates of food rations, 14 of water. And this was not an area of the city where the most desperate Haitians are waiting. ABC News returned to the site later in the day with the general overseeing the operations.
Lt. Gen. Ken Keen, deputy commander of the U.S. Southern Command, said, "The use of helicopters in the congested areas where most of the Haitian people are in need, you're not going to be landing helicopters in those areas -- we have to pick sites as close as we can."
And for now the U.S. is delivering to only this one site, clearly one where the crowds were orderly and grateful.
It was Haitian volunteers who set up these barriers. They said to the U.S. soldiers, "I wanna help. I speak English what can I do to help distribute this aid?"
Despite the small amount of aid on each flight, there were at least 20 deliveries to the landing zone with the U.S. army providing the security.
Lt. Col. Mike Foster, of the 82nd Airborne Division, 1st Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment, who is leading army soldiers from Fort Bragg, said, "I can tell you every single interaction we have had so far has been positive. We've been well received across the board."
Some Planes Have Been Blocked From Landing
Only a third of the 82nd has arrived; the Washington Post reports that of the 3,600 soldiers from Fort Bragg expected to be deployed, only 270 have made it to Haiti so far. The newspaper also reported that one of concerns is there are not enough forklifts to unload supplies for the relief efforts and not enough fuel.
Many of the flights scheduled for today in different areas of the city had to be called off because of security concerns, leaving some of the most desperate areas still waiting.
Signs made my desperate Haitians saying they need help are easily apparent throughout the city, as more looting is reported. U.S. marines have still not landed. They arrive Monday.
Doctors Without Borders, or MSF (Médecins Sans Frontières), was not allowed to land in Port-au-Prince Saturday and was rerouted to Samana, Dominican Republic; a second plane was on its way to Haiti Sunday with an inflatable hospital, which included two operating "theaters," an intensive care unit, capacity for 100 beds and other life-saving equipment.
According to USAID and the U.S. military, 600 successful takeoffs and landings have been coordinated by the military since the earthquake at an airport that normally handles three flights a day.